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Integrated rangeland fire management strategy actionable science plan completion assessment—Fire topic, 2015–20

February 14, 2023

Loss and degradation of sagebrush rangelands due to an accelerated invasive annual grass-wildfire cycle and other stressors are significant management, conservation, and economic issues in the western United States. These sagebrush rangelands comprise a unique biome spanning 11 states, support over 350 wildlife species, and provide important ecosystem services that include stabilizing the economies of western communities. Impacts to sagebrush ecosystem processes over large areas due to the annual grass-wildfire cycle necessitated the development of a coordinated, science-based strategy for improving efforts to achieve long-term protection, conservation, and restoration of sagebrush rangelands, which was framed in 2015 under the Integrated Rangeland Fire Management Strategy (IRFMS). Central to this effort was the development of an Actionable Science Plan (Plan) that identified 37 priority science needs (Needs) for informing the actions proposed under the 5 topics (Fire, Invasives, Restoration, Sagebrush and Sage-Grouse, Climate and Weather) that were part of the collective focus of the IRFMS. Notable keys to this effort were identification of the Needs co-produced by managers and researchers, and a focus on resulting science being “actionable.”

Substantial investments aimed at fulfilling the Needs identified in the Plan have been made since its release in 2016. While the state of the science has advanced considerably, the extent to which knowledge gaps remain relative to identified Needs is relatively unknown. Moreover, new Needs have likely emerged since the original strategy as results from actionable science reveal new questions and possible (yet untested) solutions. A quantifiable assessment of the progress made on the original science Needs can identify unresolved gaps and new information that can help inform prioritization of future research efforts.

This report details a systematic literature review that evaluated how well peer-reviewed journal articles and formal technical reports published between January 1, 2015, and December 31, 2020, addressed eight needs (hereinafter known as “Needs”) identified under the Fire topic in the Plan, defined as any non-structure fire that occurs in vegetation or natural fuels, including wildfires and prescribed fires. The topic outlined research Needs broadly focused on understanding the mechanisms and management of threats posed to the maintenance of large, contiguous sagebrush rangelands by fire. We established the level of progress towards addressing each Need following a standardized set of criteria, and developed summaries detailing how research objectives nested within Needs identified in the Plan (‘Next Steps’) were either addressed well, partially addressed or remain outstanding (in other words., addressed poorly) in the literature through 2020. Our searches resulted in the inclusion of 156 science products that at least partially addressed a Need identified in the Fire topic. The Needs that were well and partially addressed included:

  1. studies of relationships between fire and the sagebrush ecosystem (Need 1)
  2. investigations of the responses of sage-grouse to burned area characteristics (Need 2);
  3. spatial modeling of fire risk (Need 3);
  4. studies of the effects of fuels management treatments (Need 4);
  5. sagebrush reduction treatments on multiple characteristics of the sagebrush ecosystem (Need 6); and
  6. assessments of the role of fire in maintaining healthy sagebrush communities (Need 7).

Needs addressed poorly included:

  1. assessments of the effects of fuel breaks on sage-grouse (Need 5); and
  2. investigations of characteristics associated with the effectiveness of fuel breaks (Need 8).

The information provided in this assessment will assist updating the Plan along with other science strategies.

Publication Year 2023
Title Integrated rangeland fire management strategy actionable science plan completion assessment—Fire topic, 2015–20
DOI 10.3133/ofr20231009
Authors Matthew J Holloran, Christopher R. Anthony, Mark A. Ricca, Steven E. Hanser, Sue L. Phillips, Paul F. Steblein, Lief A. Wiechman
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2023-1009
Index ID ofr20231009
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center